God’s Plan, God’s Way

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Pastor Eugene preached this sermon on Exodus 2:11-25 on 29 January 2023 where we were reminded that God is never late. He works in His time, not ours. The faithful God will keep His promise to redeem His people in His time. 

Does the “close door” button in lifts work? My son asked me this recently, so I did a little research. According to Wikipedia, the “close door” button in many lifts is actually non-functioning. It’s what is known as a “placebo button”—we can push it, but it doesn’t really do anything. Placebo buttons are there to create an illusion of control. They make us think we’re doing something to move things along. Why does this make us feel better? It’s because none of us likes to wait. We hate being stuck in traffic jams. We hate waiting for the taxi, bus, train, or plane. We hate long queues.

We live in a fast-paced culture where technology is used to minimise waiting and to enable instant gratification. We eat fast food. We stream movies and TV shows on demand. Online shopping promises speedy delivery. We get annoyed by even the slightest delay. Basically, we want to get whatever we want, whenever we want.

Waiting is hard for us. We think waiting is a waste of time because it seems as though our life is put on hold. We get impatient, restless, and frustrated when it looks like “nothing” is happening, and there is nothing we can do about it. In his book, Delayed Response: The Art of Waiting from the Ancient to the Instant World, author Jason Farman says, “We flee from (waiting) whenever possible because it puts us in positions of powerlessness.” Indeed, the hardest thing about waiting is the fear that what we are waiting for may never come, and that waiting is all there is.

What makes waiting worthwhile is the goodness, faithfulness, and reliability of the one we are waiting for. God, who is good, wise, and true to His word. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” (Eccl 3:1) Or, as a popular Christian song puts it: “He makes all things beautiful in his time.”

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God is never late. He works in His time, not ours. He calls us to wait for Him for our times are in His hand (Ps 31:15). This is the big idea of our passage in Exodus 2:11-15 is: The faithful God will keep His promise to redeem His people in His time. In other words: God’s plan will be done God’s way. Moses had to learn this truth about God. May this passage also help us to know and trust God.

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God's plan cannot be done our way (Exo 2:11-15)

Firstly, we see that God’s plan cannot be done our way (Exo 2:11-15). Forty years have passed between verses 10 and 11 since the birth of Moses. In that time, the Israelites continued to labour under pharaoh’s heavy yoke. It was time spent waiting and waiting for something to happen. Now that Moses has grown up, surely we can expect God to do something at once?

As Pharaoh’s grandson, Moses would have enjoyed the privileges, luxuries. and comforts of growing up in the royal family. He would have received the best of what Egypt had to offer. But although Moses may have lived and looked like an Egyptian, his heart was with his people, the Hebrew slaves. So, “he went out to his people and looked on their burdens” (Exo 2:11a). Moses identified himself with the Israelites—the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Moses “went out”. This is the same Hebrew verb used to describe the Exodus: “All the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt” (Exo 12:41b). By identifying with Israel, Moses was leaving Egypt behind. Moses took Israel’s God to be his God, and Israel to be his people. He had compassion for the Israelites, as he looked on their burdens. Moses shared in their suffering and felt the pain of the injustices done to them.

Why would Moses forsake the good life to throw in his lot with a downtrodden people? The letter to the Hebrews tells us: “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.(Heb 11:24-26)” Moses chose to leave Egypt because he believed God’s saving promises. Egypt represents the world’s allurements and attractions. By faith and not by sight, Moses realised this world is passing away along with its desires. Have we grown at ease in Egypt? Will we put our trust and hope in God or in this world? Will we give up trying to live our best life now, in order to live by faith in Christ?

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Friends, God promises us eternal life and true gain if we trust in Him and become a part of his people. God’s Son, Jesus, went out from the glories of heaven. He came to suffer and die for sinners like you and me. Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. Will we believe in Jesus and share in his suffering? Will we also share in one another’s suffering and sorrows by bearing one another’s burdens?

Moses sees an Egyptian severely beating a Hebrew. Enraged, Moses decides to kill the Egyptian. The text portrays Moses’ actions as an act of premeditated murder: “He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. (Exo 2:12)" This was a revenge killing, not justice. Justice must not only be done but also seen to be done, but Moses kills in secret. He hid the body because he didn’t want his deed to be discovered. But Moses is found out. The next day, when Moses tries to mediate between two Hebrews, one of them accuses him of murder. Sin cannot remain hidden. When Pharaoh hears of it, he seeks to put Moses to death for treason and murder. Fearing for his life, Moses flees to Midian.

How disappointing for Moses, who tried to deliver Israel. But it’s not God’s plan that has failed. Rather, Moses took matters into his own hands. Perhaps he justified killing the Egyptian as a way of rescuing the Israelites. But the ends do not justify the means. Being pragmatic and doing something just because we think it works makes us self-dependent and disobedient.

God’s plan cannot be done man’s way. Moses was trying to save God’s people by His own works rather than trusting God to save them by His grace. But God does not have to rely on human effort, cunning, or might to save His people. He simply wants us to be faithful and to trust Him with the results.

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God saves us by grace alone, not by works. He does not need our help. When we serve God, how might we be relying on worldly wisdom and methods? For example, when we share the gospel with others, do we try to win an argument and manipulate a response? When rejected, do we get upset and give up? Here are some signs we may be trying to get God’s plan done our way: We don’t pray because we think we can do it on our own. We get impatient and frustrated by the slow progress and apparent lack of results. We get discouraged easily when trials come.

On his own, Moses is powerless to redeem Israel. Not only is Moses rejected by the Egyptians, even his own people refuse to listen to him: “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? (Exo 2:14a)" While this reveals the Israelites’ own stiff-necked stubbornness, it’s still a valid question since God has not yet appointed Moses to service. He has run ahead without being called. Has Moses forfeited his part in God’s plan? Maybe we also wonder if our failures have disqualified us. Can or will God still use us?

God’s plan is to teach us God’s way (Exo 2:16-22)

The truth of the matter is none of us is qualified to serve God, but the good news is God qualifies us to serve Him. It is vital that we understand this, for this is the heart of the gospel: Having been saved by grace, we serve by grace. Whoever God calls, He also justifies, empowers, and equips. For example, the apostle Paul recognised his own inadequacy when he asked: “Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Cor 2:16)” Then, in reply to his own question, Paul states: “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God  (2 Cor 3:5)."

God doesn’t simply use us for His work; He also works in us. God’s plan is to teach us God’s way, that we see our need for Him. Hence, God reveals our weaknesses through our faults and failures. God isn’t done with Moses. In fact, He is just getting started.

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Moses flees from Egypt to the land of Midian, a desert region. The Midianites were descended from Midian, who was one of Abraham’s sons through his other wife, Keturah (Gen 25). To prepare Moses to lead his people to the promised land, God first leads Moses into the wilderness. Moses’ own journey parallels Israel’s exodus from Egypt, making him especially suited for the task.

Beloved, the failures, difficulties, and detours in our lives are not aimless. Suffering and setbacks are God’s tools to sanctify and shape us for service. For example, if we have experienced God’s help through our trials, we can better empathise with and encourage others in tough times. God can use suffering to soften our hearts, making us more understanding, patient, and gentle with others who are hurting. As the hymn "How Firm a Foundation" goes, 

"When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.”

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It's mentioned that Moses “sat down by a well” (Exo 2:15b). Perhaps we are meant to recall previous instances of God’s providing for his people. Abraham’s servant found a wife for Isaac when he met Rebekah at the well (Gen 24). Jacob met his future wife Rachel at the well (Gen 29). Moses, likewise, meets his wife Zipporah at the well. God is still at work in Moses’ life. His failure has not derailed God’s plan.

When the daughters of the priest of Midian, whose name is Reuel or Jethro, come to draw water from the well, some shepherds drive the women away. But Moses, although he is just one man, boldly stands up to the shepherds. Despite his setbacks, Moses hasn’t become jaded. He still cares about righteousness and justice. Moses reflects God’s character: “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. (Deut 10:17-18)" How are we reflecting God’s character by loving and serving the weak, vulnerable, and hurting?

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Unlike his previous use of violence, Moses shows restraint this time. He doesn’t kill the shepherds but simply drive those bullies away. To serve others, strength needs self-control. Moses has also learnt humility. His Egyptian education may have prepared him for worldly prominence and power, but here Moses stoops to serve by watering Midian’s flock. This was a lowly and laborious task that involved hauling a lot of water from the well. Moses learns to lead by learning to serve. God brings us through trials to humble us and make us more servant minded. God uses tough times to undermine our pride and self-sufficiency.

God is preparing Moses to be His people’s deliverer. Just as Moses delivered Reuel’s daughters from the shepherds, so will He deliver Israel from Egypt. Moses is still God’s chosen servant to accomplish God’s plan. Are we scandalised by God’s grace, that even a murderer can be forgiven? As long as we cling on to even the smallest self-righteous notion that we can somehow earn God’s favour, we will be offended by how seemingly “unfair” His grace is. But if God we fair, then we deserve His righteous judgment against us. But God is more than fair; he abounds in love and mercy.

More than a thousand years later, God will call another man to ministry who also had blood on his hands. Paul persecuted Christians, but God saved him and set him apart to serve as an apostle. Do we confess that we are sinners? The good news for us is that Jesus came precisely to save sinners, even the chief of sinners.

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Reuel is surprised when his daughters return home so early. He expects them to be delayed by the trouble-making shepherds. The daughters reply: “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and even drew water for us and watered the flock. (Exo 2:19)" Given his appearance, the daughters think Moses is an Egyptian. In their excitement, they forget common courtesy and leave Moses by the well. Reuel urges his daughters to show hospitality to Moses. God graciously provides for Moses through Reuel—and not just a meal, but also marriage and a family.

Moses marries Zipporah and they have son. Moses names him “Gershom”, which sounds like the Hebrew for “sojourner”. Moses knows he is still in exile, away from home. But Egypt isn’t home either. Moses has learned through suffering to long for the promised land and to be with God’s people.

These verses portray Moses as a deliverer. He delivered Reuel’s daughters from the shepherds and he will also lead Israel out of Egypt. Moses will do the extraordinary, but he must first learn to be content in the ordinary. He has to learn to wait on God amid the mundane moments of marriage, family, and work. Shepherding his father-in-law’s flock taught Moses how to feed, defend and rescue the lost sheep of Israel.

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Did Moses wonder if life had passed him by? Yet, God’s plan hasn’t been put on hold; he is still working in Moses’ life. Beloved, how is God teaching us to be content in the ordinary, whether it’s at school, at work, or in our families? How is God training us to be patient as we wait on Him, and to be faithful amid the mundane? God wants us to trust and obey Him in the small things, so that he can entrust us with bigger things.

God’s plan will be done God’s way (Exo 2:23-25)

How long are we prepared to wait for God? Forty years passed between verses 22 and 23. Moses lived in Midian for 40 years before God called him at the burning bush (cf. Acts 7:30). One writer said it well: “Moses was 40 years in Egypt learning to be something; he was 40 years in the desert learning to be nothing; and he was 40 years in the wilderness proving God to be everything.” This is a humbling reminder that God’s timetable is different from ours. We often crave instant results and returns. But unlike us, God does not rush about impatiently. God’s plan will be done God’s way.

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During those 40 years, the Pharaoh who had commanded the killing of Israel’s sons died. Earthly kings come and go, but God is still the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is eternal above all earthly powers and unfailingly works out his plan. “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings. (Dan 2:21a)"

Egypt’s new king maintains the same harsh policies towards the Israelites. As a popular saying puts it: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” Groaning under the crushing burden of slavery, the people of Israel cry out for help. Waiting is hard, especially when life is tough and we’re suffering. Often, the only thing we can do is to cry out to God. Like the psalmist, don’t be afraid to ask, “How long, O Lord?” But ask in faith. We may not be able to make sense of our circumstances, but we can trust our loving and wise God to work all things for our good in His time. “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. (Ps 130:5-6)"

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Our confidence is founded upon God’s character. He is the sovereign, faithful, covenant-making and -keeping God. We can hope in Him. His steadfast love cannot fail. With Him is plentiful redemption. God will save in the fullness of His time. Here is a call for us to be patient. Moses was 80 years old when God called him. More than 400 years passed before God kept his covenant promises to Abraham. As Peter reminds us: “Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfil His promise… (2 Pet 3:8-9a)"

In much of Exodus 1-2, God has been in the background, saving in surprising ways through the suffering of the Israelites, the lowly and humble midwives, and the birth of a son, Moses. But verses 24-25 turn our focus on God who has been actively working all along. He knows and loves Hs people. He listens to our prayers. He takes the initiative to save. So, cry out to Him for help.

Four action words are used to emphasise God’s faithfulness to His promises in Genesis to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: God hears; God remembers; God sees; God knows. In Genesis 15, God made a covenant with Abraham, promising to save Israel from slavery and to bring them to the promised land. Now, God is about to put His plan of redemption into motion. All this while, God has been preparing Moses for ministry. He will soon call Moses to action.

The story doesn’t end with the exodus. In the fullness of time, God faithfully kept His covenant with Abraham by sending His Son, Jesus, to save sinners. Christ came to do God’s plan God’s way. He died on the cross to pay the price for our sins, that we might be forgiven and brought back to God. Jesus rose from the dead in victory, redeeming us from our slavery to sin and death. Jesus hears, remembers, sees, and knows. If we repent and trust in Him, He is faithful to save us.

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And the story isn’t over. We are waiting for Jesus to return for us. We groan as we wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies. We long for that day when hope is fulfilled, faith turns to sight, and we share in Christ’s glory. God’s plan will be done God’s way. So, let’s wait for Him. We are bound for the promised land.